For late July the weather couldn’t be more perfect. The evening campfire comes to life as the sun sets and we feel a light breeze. Between the cheers and laughter, the sizzle and pop of the firewood floats through the air. A row of benches circle the fire so that no one is left out. The campers are sweaty and dirty with leftover red and blue paint from the afternoon’s Capture the Flag game.
My family and I have come for the evening to share in the campfire. As a local pastor with many youth attending the camp, my husband will offer a reflection to the campers around the fire. The summer insects provide a chorus in the background as he begins talking.
“I want to tell you about someone,” he says. “It’s about my Nana. Anyone else here have a Nana?” A wave of hands reach up to the sky.
“Well,” he continues, “my Nana was the best.” In the moment he pauses an eruption of shouts begin.
“No, my Nana is the best.”
“That’s your opinion!”
“Mine is great!”
“Okay, okay,” he’s smiling now trying to continue talking amidst the shouts of whose Nana is the best. He continues to talk about his Nana and then tells everyone her name: Charlotte.
Almost jumping out of his seat, one of the campers quickly comments, “That’s your daughter’s name!”
“Yes, it is. We named our daughter, Charlotte, as a way to remember my Nana. Names are really special and powerful. Names give us an identity but also connect us to others.”
For the next few moments the campers and my husband talk about their names and if anyone is named after a family member or friend. Then he asks them about their baptisms and what they remember. He reminds them about the water that gets poured at baptisms and the oil used to make the sign of the cross.
“At your baptism God claimed you as a child of God. Forever loved and forever claimed. So what do you say we take time now to remember that call and the name God has given to each of us.”
In that moment the campers were invited forward to receive a blessing, to be anointed with oil and the cross of Christ. To hear the words: You are a loved child of God. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever.
Just as quickly as they were invited forward they all jumped up to receive their blessing. I literally mean jumped and ran forward to get in line, full of excitement and joy. As they came forward they felt the cross marked on their head with oil and they heard words spoken directly to them: You are a child of God. They wanted to be a part of it, they wanted to know they are loved.
Isn’t that a gift? Isn’t that what all of us desire? To know that God has called us beloved and as God’s children. The faith of the campers inspired me to remember who I am as a child of God. They reminded me that the name given to me at baptism is the most important name I’ve been given and will ever be given. This is our mark, the sign of the cross, our call to be bearers of Christ’s light and love.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, MO. You can read more at her website. Or follow her work on Facebook.